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umes, of those excellent poems, “ The Lady of Shalott,” “ Sir

, Galahad," and a few others on themes drawn from the same fair old traditions.

We cannot tell if, in the years since he first gave his “King Arthur” to its readers, Bulwer has found reason to doubt the

" soundness of this profession of faith in it, as the sustaining point of his repute in the world of letters. If, comparing the reception given to his poem, and the quality of it, with the value set upon his later novels and their excellence, he still stakes himself upon the verse rather than the prose, he only proves himself in that mistake into which so many authors have fallen, and which made Milton set his “ Paradise Regained” above the greater “ Paradise Lost.” . “The Caxtons" seems the turning-point of his prose, where it enjoys relief — and the reader with it -- from the artificial

ness, not to speak of graver faults, which is conspicuous in the structure, action, and sentiment of his earlier works. Not unduly forcing any contrast or resemblance between the poetry and the prose, we must say that the poem is not free from this incubus. It is dull, it must be confessed. And it is so, more than from any other reason, because it wants that reality which the exaggerated tale of magic or romance must have, equally with the solemn lifelikeness of a great tragedy, in order to command any large interest in its wild action, or lively sympathy with its fanciful actors. It lacks the reality of the maker's own presence within the circle of the people, deeds and events which he fashions and arranges, as it were, ordering his own life into their moods and motions, infusing something of his own personality, his passion, capacity, thought, emotion, will ; and so, if not on the lower ranges and colored clouds of fancy, yet on the upper levels and in the rare ether of a soaring imagination, proving communion with the Infinite Artist, and the gift of His inspiration, by creations which are faithful semblances of His “living souls.” The writer of “King Arthur” is not Poet in the old and deep significance of Maker. He has a deft hand at arranging what old-time story and song furnish, and a skilful wit in managing what his own new information from all quarters and his wide learning provide; a clever fancy, also, though not of the finest and most

delicate, to depict startling situations and pleasing or frightful scenes and scenery, with abundant sentiment of a rather conventional complexion, and some show of philosophy; manifest capableness and facility throughout, but not the higher freedom, force, and enjoyment of the mind in its deeds. “One of his best efforts,” we might say in the common phrase, but with a touch of criticism and even satire in it. Plainly a work ; though doubtless a labor of love, since none other would appear with so careful and benedictory a preface. He stands outside of his work, showing a nice constructive ability in its details, and apt management of its course, but with little of that power to penetrate within the order of the mind's fictions, to overrule with personal power and inspire as with spiritual life, which turns the work of faculty into the play of genius. We also, with him, stand outside, admiring his skill, — sometimes, it may be, lost in the beauty of the sight and interest of the action, - but “most like a tired child at a show," and rarely moved save as by puppet-play and painted scene.

The poem has the orthodox twelve books, and for interest hinges, for the most part, on the adventures of Arthur in his search, ordered by Merlin, after the diamond sword of the Lady of the Lake, the silver shield of Thor, and the young playmate-guide of his own infancy. The events of this search, proceeding in strange lands and in stranger caverns and waters under the earth, are complicated with the fortunes of Lancelot and Gawaine, who follow the king, and by the various movements of a war which, in his absence, rages between the Christian Britons and the infidel invading Saxons. With all the wonder truth must be inwoven, according to the canon of Gothic romance, “whose most prominent attribute," as the Preface states it, “is fondness for an interior or double meaning, and which, where it accepts a marvel, always insinuates a type.” Therefore, the gem-falchion which Arthur seeks in the sparry caves of the lake is the sword of honorable repute, which gives to its owner the name of “Fame-conqueror in the halls of Time." The silver shield for which he journeys to the frozen North is the shield of Freedom, - a talisman which insures to him the liberty of his people, as prophecy and earnest of a free future to Britain. And the golden-haired playmate,


recovered at the iron gate of Death, is the guide to Happiness, incarnated in the form of the “ destined soother," woman. In like manner of Type always waiting upon Marvel, the war of Cymry with Saxon may typify the toils and glories of Patriotism; minstrel Caradoc may be the symbol of the poet's mission to inspire the people to noble deed and living ; Lancelot may serve for an image of faithful friendship, and Gawaine show the humorous in life set off against its strifes and solemnities. He is the merry-man of the poem; yet, from the quality of the fun, rather slow of motion and of ponderous make, one might judge this Celtic name foisted on some sober Teuton. No skeleton of a sketch can, however, intimate the chaos of fastfollowing events and thick-crowding personages, phantasmal scene-shiftings and theatric exits and entrances, which distract the attention, and preclude, if not all artistic grace, yet all artistic completeness.

There is still enjoyment to be derived from the book, - a good deal, if not of the finest kind. While it is a disturbed, unsatisfactory remembrance of conventional scenic artifice, and unartistic huddled confusion, which, on the whole, we have to carry away from its reading, yet many passages might be picked out, of musical rhythm, delicate fancy, pure sentiment, high thought. The learning in it is admirable, though not gracefully worn, like Milton's, which he carries off as grave embroidery on his singing robes, giving them more ample fall and richness. It is always praiseworthy, such gathering together of material as “ King Arthur” shows, such command of resources, acquaintance with precedents, careful mingling of details, study of effects, nice structure of polished verse, - above all, such conscientious purpose and labor; but in it all, we have to confess the impression of mechanism and declamation. We are not moved to delight and admiration by that poetic insight which uses all useful things with an imperial sway, and is never encumbered or led astray by them. The knowledge so remarkable here in amount and range, and the skill so notable for the deftness of its handling, show the poet well informed, but not “the vision and the faculty divine."

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The “ Idyls of the King” do not claim a place among the greater products of the high poetic art, which,“ submitting the shows of things to the desires of the mind," rules the furnishings of nature and of information or experience to the service of ideas. Their maker is not, for this time and his present purpose, prophet or philosopher, ministering to fine incitement or deep instruction, but singer, to our delight. And his entertainment is satisfying, — not empty music, which plays

, about the ear, but song full of meaning, which reaches the heart and sets our sympathies vibrating to the sweet fancies, noble feelings, and brave or loving actions, the kind humanities, fair courtesies, and pure pieties, the idealized chivalry and gentle hood of that Golden Age of song and story, which puts the ideal into the practice of its men and manners.

These songs recall nothing of the pathos of buried affection which, in the “In Memoriam,” pursues its solemn search, its sometimes morbidly anxious, agonized questioning of spiritual mysteries ; nothing of the deep insight into the danger which dogs the unhallowed intellect, in the “ Palace of Art;' nothing of the earnest warning drawn from moral loss and death, in the “ Vision of Sin.” They are not the poetic garb around the prose of a reform cause or movement in society, - as the parable of “ The Princess ” portrays the strife and reconciling of manly and womanly duties, rights and pleasures. Nor do they bring back a note of the perplexed discords to which sick passion, compounded of fierce hate and fiercer love, sets itself in “ Maud." But, marked by a wonderful and characteristic fancy, in all its exuberant play of crowding incidents, scenes, and people, by a subtile dramatizing of quick and varied thought and feeling, by vividest speech and action, they rank with the “Mariana in the South” and “ The Brook," with the “ Ulysses” and “ Enone." Reviewers have compared them to the songs of Homer. And, in the first flush of delightful reading, one says to himself that the old Greeks could have had no keener pleasure in the verse which chanted their ancient traditions. It is, however, a daring comparison between idyllic melodies and epic harmony. Yet if that Poet within a Poem, who sits with his friends, on a Christmas eve, in the earlier story, — “ The

, Epic,” — and,

“ mouthing out his hollow oes and aes,

Deep-chested music,” reads to them “ Morte d'Arthur,” may be at all identified with Tennyson himself, (as we have lately heard of his reading, of a morning, one of these Idyls to his friends in his Isle-ofWight home,) we have his own word for it that they are “Homeric echoes,” though faint; and we consent to that, though not to their being

"nothing worth, Mere chaff and draff, much better burnt.”

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All who have found their pleasure in that fancy which has borne these poems, and which seems the finest in our literature, except perhaps that which shows of so perfect a quality in “St. Agnes Eve," must remember those four poems, in Tennyson's earlier volumes, of subjects taken from our Arthur legends. Many have wished that the artist might work more deeply the quarry from which he had struck out such graceful and strong shapes. That wish the Idyls answer, with the same brilliant picture-play which is so captivating in the weird vision of “ The Lady of Shalott,” and so entrancing in the fair apparition of the very joy and song of spring in “ Guinevere's Maying," - with the high tone of thought so impressive in “ Morte d'Arthur,” and with the religious sentiment so holy in “ Sir Galahad.” And that their so admirable gift may not suffer in its presentation, it is offered in a surpassing harmony and perfect adaptation of verse, and set forth with that perfection of art in which their author excels all poets of this day.

His is not only the structural art of external form, material fitness ; but the essential art of interior coherence, moral and spiritual congruity. In these Idyls it appears in direct contrast with the artifice of the “ King Arthur," and proves the difference between a poem and a rhymed novel. To Tennyson the old stories have been a cherished germ of poetic beauty and power, which, warmed by the glow of his mind and responding to every genial affinity and influence there, rewards its culture by a fair growth and symmetrical unfolding. To Bulwer they seem so much material to be made over;

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